After the wave of violence that occurred on May 31st, the last day of the regular school year for District 209 students (see here and here for coverage), a lot of residents of Maywood and beyond were wondering how exactly it could’ve happened. What fueled the students’ aggression? How did we go from this:
For some possible explanations, we went to experts, community leaders, Village officials, parents and students. Their answers are wide-ranging and thought-provoking. Over the next several days, we’ll publish the opinions and insights of these individuals, inviting you, the reader, to engage in the dialogue as well (tell us what you think in the comments section below). This series of posts will inaugurate a new section we’re calling, “Virtual Town Hall.” We hope to convene these at least once a month on issues that span the gamut — all of which are vitally important to the present and future of Maywood.
Bishop Dr. Claude Porter is the pastor of Proviso Missionary Baptist Church and President and CEO of the Proviso Leyden Council for Community Development (PLCCA). Since its founding, the organization has expanded its social footprint to cover communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. According to its website, PLCCA, with over 30 program offerings, services more than 30,000 people every year.
We as a group of leaders and individuals have to really start focusing on the home and the families. We have to give families the tools to improve the quality of life in the home. And then we have to create jobs, training programs and opportunities for young people to bring them out of that environment. We have a lot of great young minds [here in Maywood], but we have to focus on empowering them. And that takes the whole community — from the family to the schools to the government to social service organizations.
What is PLCCA doing to address these kinds of problems?
This summer, we’re putting about 80 young people to work and we’re looking to increase that to another 50 young people, between the ages of 18 and 24. We also initiated a program where parents go throughout the community gathering information about the issues affecting youth. And we give them a stipend to do that. This is funded by the Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund. If anyone wants to get involved or apply for work, they can come into the office at 411 Madison and our staff will assist them with applying online. For more information on PLCCA, click here.
Isiah Brandon is the Executive Director of Youth on the Move, a nonprofit community organization based in Maywood that will be providing summer recreational activities for young people here in the Village. Brandon is also a former candidate for trustee.
I think the problem has been happening for a while now. So to look at the solution at all levels will set the right tone. The police department and the school district should have planned and prepared for this. There should have been proper coordination between those two entities.
It happens every year. Kids do this on the last day of school to avoid getting suspended. It was happening when I was a student at Proviso East [Mr. Brandon is in his early twenties]. It just happens that the number of students involved this year was larger than during previous instances.
Why do you think that was?
Maybe because there were more problems among the students than previous years. Maybe there was a larger focus on negative activities than in the past. But I’m not entirely sure.
Do you think the fighting was pre-planned?
It was definitely pre-planned. Word had probably gotten out beforehand about where the students would meet.
You mentioned that the police department and the school should have been better prepared for something like this. How, specifically, could they have done better?
The tone has to be set. Maywood has to set the tone and say we’re not going to allow this to happen in our village and the school and police have to set the tone. A better working relationship has to be established. There should be more coordination between different segments of law enforcement, such as the County Sheriff’s office and the local police department.
How does your organization tackle the problem of youth aggression and violence?
We provide positive alternatives to keep youth engaged and future-focused. We try to empower youth to…think about how their choices will impact not only today but tomorrow. So, we’re going to be calling on every level of the community to create an activity at no cost for young people to engage in during the summer, because the programs aren’t there like they need to be in the community. When you have a lack of programs, there is usually a rise in crime.
The goal of our summer initiative is to have different organizations pack a calendar that we’ve created with free programming for youth all throughout the summer. If organizations want to add to that calendar, they can call me at 708-299-2464.
I know a large number of the individuals who may have been involved in the fighting and most of them have come from broken homes where there is no authority. A lot of them are out there operating without a purpose. Maywood has over 12,000 youth alone and there is almost a school in every area or segment of the community. What if we had these different schools opening up their gyms for recreational activities to take place during the summer? We can’t blame someone else for not doing anything if we’re not utilizing the resources that we have and schools are great resources.
Barbara Cole is the founder and Executive Director of Maywood Youth Mentoring (MYM), a nonprofit organization in Maywood that offers year-round programming and services for community youth. MYM just received a grant from McDonalds to continue its array of services and programs. For more information on its offerings, go to the site.
A lot has to do with parental responsibility and what we’re teaching these children. We need to teach kids anger management. We need to prevent them from being influenced negative media and this gangster persona that is popular. We need to deal with the lack of respect factor.
I was just at a Cease Fire picnic in Bellwood and there weren’t many children there. This is really tragic. We have programming and opportunities for kids, but they aren’t taking advantage of them. The parents often don’t know about them. We need to work with the park district to bring these kinds of programs to the attention of the community. For example, the park district can be a central location where people drop off flyers of their respective events and programs.
Do you know any of the kids who might have been involved in the May 31st fighting?
Yes. I knew a couple of the kids involved. I don’t know the extent of their involvement. I just recognized them from the videos. A couple of them have even received peace circle training. So, they know there are other ways to solve your problems, but it’s a process. These kids didn’t learn to be violent and react the way they do overnight. That’s part of your upbringing. But for the school to say that it didn’t happen on school property, therefore its not their problem…it was planned in the school! Even I knew it was going to happen. Some of the kids told me it was going to be fighting on the last day. But I didn’t know it would be on that scale. VFP